Courtesy of K-State Athletics
LINCOLN, Neb. – Kansas State turned to its reliable defense to grind out another road victory, as the Wildcats held Nebraska to more than 17 points under its scoring average in a 67-58 win on Sunday night before a sold-out crowd of 15,043 fans at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
K-State (7-3) has now won 5 of its last 6 games and opened the year with consecutive road victories (Wichita State and Nebraska) for the first time since the 2017-18 season.
With their offense struggling with consistency, the Wildcats turned up their always solid defensive effort in holding the Cornhuskers (5-7) to their second-fewest points of the season (58) and second-lowest field goal percentage (32.8 percent / 19-of-58). The Huskers, who started the game 5-of-11 from 3-point range, missed their final 17 attempts from long range, including all 11 in the second half.
K-State has now held 5 of 10 opponents this season under 60 points, including back-to-back on the road.
Playing for the first time in more than a decade in Lincoln and the first time in Pinnacle Bank Arena, which opened in 2013, the Wildcats allowed the Cornhuskers to get in rhythm early, falling behind by as many 10 points, including 25-15 with 8:48 to play. However, the team rattled off 16 straight points as part of a larger 18-2 run to end the opening half to take a 33-27 advantage into the locker room.
After Nebraska took the momentum back with 9 straight to open the second half, the squads traded the lead back and forth until a 12-2 run keyed by 3-pointer by sophomore Nijel Pack gave K-State the lead for good with 9:44 remaining. The Huskers made one last run, closing to within 59-55 with 2:41 to play, however, a Pack free throw and a long 3-pointer from fifth-year senior Mark Smith ended any further rally.
Pack led the way offensively for the Wildcats with 15 points on 5-of-13 field goals, including 2-of-9 from 3-point range, to go with a career-high 8 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals, while fellow sophomore Ish Massoud added 10 points on 2-of-4 field goals, including 1-of-3 from long range, and a perfect 5-of-5 effort from the free throw line.
Big men – junior Kaosi Ezeagu and sophomore Davion Bradford – had their best combined games of the season with a combined 18 points and 15 rebounds. Ezeagu finished with a near double-double with 9 points and career-tying 9 rebounds, while Bradford added a season-high 9 points and 5 rebounds.
Nebraska was led by a game-high 21 points by senior Alonzo Verge, Jr., who finished 7-of-14 from the field and 7-of-9 from the free throw line, while freshman Bryce McGowens added 14 points.
Sunday’s contest marked the first of a 3-game series between the schools with matchups in Kansas City (2022) and Manhattan (2023) set for the next 3 seasons. It was the first meeting since 2011.
After sophomore Nijel Pack opened the game with a 3-pointer on the first possession, the teams traded the lead before a pair of 3-pointers by sophomore Keisei Tominaga ignited a 13-4 run that gave Nebraska a 17-9 advantage at the 11:52 mark. The run included a 4-point swing on a technical by sophomore Ish Massoud that resulted in a free throw and 3-pointer by freshman Bryce McGowens.
The Wildcats closed to within 4 points twice, but 3-pointers by McGowens and freshman C.J. Wilcher gave the Cornhuskers a 25-15 lead and forced head coach Bruce Weber to call his first timeout with 8:44 before halftime.
The timeout seemed to give K-State lift it needed to get back in the game, as the Wildcats rattled off the next 16 points, including 5 in a row by senior Mike McGuirl, to take a 31-25 lead with 40 seconds left. McGowen broke the Huskers’ scoring drought with a layup that gave him 10 points in the first half, but junior Markquis Nowell ended the half with a pullup jumper that rolled into the basket as the buzzer sounded for a 33-27 lead at halftime.
The momentum the Wildcats built to end the first half quickly evaporated in the opening moments of the second half, as the Huskers scored the first 9 points, including a 3-point play by junior Lat Mayen at the 17:32 mark, to regain the lead at 36-33.
A 3-pointer by fifth-year senior Mark Smith and 3 free throws by Massoud helped give K-State the lead at 39-36.
The teams went back and forth over the next few minutes with Nebraska taking a 47-45 edge on a 3-point play by senior Alonzo Verge, Jr., near the midway point of the second half.
A Pack 3-pointer on the next possession started a 12-2 run that helped the Wildcats take a 57-49 and force a Husker timeout with 6:15 remaining. Pack and fellow sophomore Davion Bradford each had 5 points in the run.
After K-State took a 59-50 lead on a dunk by junior Kaosi Ezeagu with 3:40 to play, Nebraska made one last push, scoring the next 5 points to close the gap to 59-55 just over a minute later.
However, a free throw by Pack and a long 3-pointer by Smith ended any further threat, as Massoud and Pack went perfect from the line in the waning minutes for the 67-58 final score.
PLAYER(S) OF THE GAME
Sophomore Nijel Pack led the Wildcats with 15 points on 5-of-13 field goals, including 2-of-9 from 3-point range, to go with a career-best 8 rebounds, season-tying 5 assists and 2 steals in a season-best 34 minutes.
Sophomore Ish Massoud scored in double figures for the third consecutive double figures with 10 points on 2-of-4 field goals, including 1-of-3 from 3-point range, and 5-of-5 on free throws.
STAT OF THE GAME
17 – Nebraska missed its final 17 attempts from 3-point range after starting the game 5-of-11 from long range. The Huskers finished 17.9 percent (5-of-28) from 3-point range, including 0-of-11 in the second half.
IN THEIR WORDS
K-State Head Coach Bruce Weber
On the game…
“Obviously, you win a road game and you’re happy. We got the rivalry renewed. You got an easy two hour and 15 minute bus ride up here, great arena, great history to this game and we knew they were a wounded animal. They had a bad stretch. You got exam week and we thought they would come out and play hard and get after us and they did. They jumped on us. I thought we fought ourselves again on the offensive end, trying to make tough plays instead of the easy plays. Ish (Massoud) loses his poise. I didn’t even see the play with the technical, but now he’s got to sit. But that group that came in — Mike (McGuirl), Selton (Miguel), Nijel (Pack) and Marquis (Nowell) –finished the half and did a great job, defensively gave us a nice boost and 11 straight shutouts and an 18-2 run and you take the lead. They had the run to start, our run the finish the half, their run the start the second half and then back and forth and then we made some big plays down the stretch. Obviously, it’s nice to have Nijel back. Not a perfect night but he still ends up 15, eight, and five, plus two turnovers and two steals, but I thought that the bench was a big difference. If you look at the plus/minus, Selton was plus 15, Mike plus eight, Luke (Kasubke) a plus seven. Kind of just on and on if you look at those guys, they were big difference makers and the big guys, Davion (Bradford) and Kaosi (Ezeagu) between the two they have 18 (points) and 15 rebounds, which is impressive for those guys. We thought we could take advantage of them inside. We called some quick hitters and got it into them. And you can see Davion slowly but surely, but he has made some progress and hopefully he feels good about himself. He’s got to continue moving forward and taking care of his body and giving himself a chance to be successful and be the player he should be.”